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When can a police officer stop my car?

Police officers generally cannot stop your car and ask to give you a sobriety test without probable cause. But the police officer does not have to believe you are intoxicated to stop you. In fact, there are many driving infractions which could allow the police officer to make the initial traffic stop. The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTA) has conducted research which indicates there are several common driving infractions performed by intoxicated drivers which could indicate they are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If the police officer witnesses any of these actions, you are likely to be stopped.

Common driving infractions which could indicate intoxication

  Common driving infractions which allow a police officer to stop your car include the following:
  • Swerving
  • Following other drivers too closely
  • Straddling the center marker
  • Turning with a wide radius
  • Weaving or nearly striking another car
  • Driving on the ride side of the street
  • Driving too slowly
  • Drifting into the other lane
  • Stopping and starting erratically
  • Not responding to traffic signals
  • Turning abruptly or making illegal turns
  • Driving without your headlights on
If the police officer observes any of these actions they are legally allowed to stop your car. Additional observations may be needed to perform a field sobriety test or arrest you for DUI, but the reasons you are initially stopped could be as simple as a broken taillight. One infraction you don’t see on the list which might surprise you is speeding. Although it is against the law to speed, speeding is something most drunken drivers do not do, although if you are speeding you can expect to be stopped.

What do I do after a traffic stop by a police officer?

  Drivers who are stopped and questioned by the police have rights. You do not have to admit to drinking or answer any other self-incriminating questions. You also can refuse a field sobriety test. A refusal, however, is no guarantee you will not be asked to submit to a chemical test after they arrest you for DUI. In fact, if the police officer is asking you to take a field sobriety test they probably already think you are intoxicated and simply are looking for additional DUI evidence. Evidence that could convince them you are intoxicated can include staggering, flushed face, red or watery eyes, swaying on your feet, leaning on your car for support, difficulty walking, odor of alcohol on breath, fumbling with wallet trying to get license, and the inability to follow the police officer’s directions.

Should I take the chemical test?

  Refusing to take a chemical test after a DUI stop will result in administrative actions against you, which could include a license suspension. Before refusing it’s important to weigh the likelihood of a high blood-alcohol reading against the administrative consequences for refusing. If you refuse and you are intoxicated, the state could lack compelling evidence, but you will also lose your license even if you are found not guilty of DUI.